When I grow up…

meiling

I want to design furniture.

By Venessa Lee
The Straits Times

April 12, 2015

Adults often smilingly ask youngsters what they want to do when they grow up, hoping to be charmed by a precocious answer. It was, however, a question that caused anxiety for Ms Ng Mei Ling, 23, when she was younger.

She says: “My answers were always changing. I wanted to be a psychologist, then an accountant,” she says. “Maybe it was because I knew those were the ‘right’ answers that people wanted to hear.”

In fact, the seeds of her career as a product and furniture designer were evident in kindergarten. She does not recall much about the toys she played with, but remembers the tactile feel of furniture at home.

“I liked to read in a circular chair made of plastic strings woven together. I also remember the feel of the velvet surface of a stool. I watched the purple cloth turn darker purple as I ran my fingers across it,” says Ms Ng, who now works at design firm Acre after graduating last year from the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (Nafa) with a degree in 3-D design.

While in the second year of junior college at Hwa Chong Institution, she went to a Nafa open house and was captivated by the 3-D design section. “I had that lightbulb moment. All the dots connected. It felt like I was meant to do design,” she says.

She thinks that “indirect pressure” from family and peers “prevented” her from knowing what she wanted to do. Her mother, housewife Chow Yock Chee, 56, says she did not tell Ms Ng, the younger of her two daughters, she had to go to university, though it was a hope she and her husband had held.

Ms Ng’s parents eventually accepted her career choice. Madam Chow says: “Children need to find their own way. We supported her.”

While it can be difficult for young people to know what they want to do when they grow up, career guidance experts say family plays an important role.

Singapore Polytechnic’s career and education counsellor Glenn Ee says: “As filial piety is a key value in Asian culture, there is a likelihood that children show respect to the family by wanting to please them.”

Yet young people “need to know themselves – their interests, abilities, values and personality – before they can explore if certain careers are suitable for them”, says Dr Cecilia Soong, head of the Counselling Programme, School of Human Development & Social Services at SIM University.

This is why parents should encourage their children to explore. Mr Ee says: “There is a tendency to shut the doors to opportunities before they can even be explored. This could be due to a results-driven culture and/or less supportive parents.”

Most childhood ambitions do not translate to actual careers, he adds.